A magazine ranked all 50 states. How did North Carolina do?

By Rob Christensen | Mar 13, 2017

North Carolina remains among the leaders in the South when it comes to quality of life, health, education, the economy and other important measures, according to a new in-depth 50-state survey.

The Tar Heel State still has many problems, ranging from a significant number of people living in poverty to many who lack health insurance. But it is also fast growing, with a low-cost university system, plenty of opportunity, and decent education and government.

That is the conclusion of a new survey published by U.S. News and World Report rating the states based on 60 metrics and thousands of data points regarding health care, education, economy, infrastructure, public safety and the integrity and health of state government.

North Carolina has long been recognized as a leader in the South – a region that has faced a multi-generational struggle to overcome its legacy of poverty.

"It is beyond doubt one of the most important, alive and progressive states in the union," wrote journalist John Gunther in his 1947 book, "Inside USA." In the 1960s, National Geographic called North Carolina the Dixie Dynamo. But some observers have questioned that status over the years. Progressive critics have questioned the rightward turn in politics since 2010 and the national backlash to House Bill 2.

But according to U.S. News and World Report's data dive, the state still is a leader in its region.

The top five states were Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Washington State, according to the report that was prepared in part by McKinsey & Co., Leading States Index. The bottom five were Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, and New Mexico.

North Carolina was exactly in the middle, ranked 25th. Among Southern states, only Virginia (11th) and Florida (24th) were rated as better states.

North Carolina was rated a far better state – using objective measures – than most of the rest of the South. South Carolina was 45th, Tennessee 39th and Georgia 36th.

It also was rated a better place than some of the nation's mega-states such as Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.

Both Democrats and Republicans can find talking points in the survey.

North Carolina ranked near the bottom in the number of its citizens who have health insurance (42nd). Because of the GOP legislature, North Carolina was one of 15 states that declined to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor as part of the Affordable Care Act.

But Republicans, who controlled the legislature and governorship the past four years, can note how highly North Carolina government is rated. The Tar Heel State was ranked the fourth best in the country in government, with the report citing the state's high credit rating, its pension funding, transparency and integrity.

North Carolina stood out in the report – among the top 10 states – in such categories as mental health, four-year college graduation rate, college tuition and fees, pre-K quality, level of juvenile incarceration, parole completion, and gender equality.

But there were problem areas, where North Carolina was among the bottom 10 states. Those categories were health care affordability, health insurance enrollment, infant mortality rate, two-year college graduate rates, college readiness, preschool enrollment, power grid reliability, online download speed, household income and food insecurity.

Here's a look at how the report ranked North Carolina:

HEALTH CARE: North Carolina rated 27th. In the South, only Virginia rated higher. North Carolina rated above average in such categories as adult wellness visits, child dental visits, child wellness visits and fewest nursing home citations. It was in the middle on such statistics as obesity, smoking, suicides and Medicare quality. It was rated poorly on health-insurance enrollment and infant mortality.

EDUCATION: North Carolina ranked 21st in the country. In the South, only Virginia was higher. North Carolina was tied for first with five other states in the quality of pre-kindergarten programs. It was rated above average in four-year college graduation rate, low debt at graduation, and college tuition and fees. It was rated average among the states in educational attainment, high school graduation rate and NAEP math scores. It was rated below average in college readiness, NAEP reading scores, pre-school enrollment and two-year college graduation rates.

CRIME AND CORRECTIONS: North Carolina ranked 24th, fourth best in the South behind Virginia, Kentucky and Mississippi. North Carolina had the lowest prison overpopulation rate in the country, the report said. The state was rated above average in having the least juvenile incarceration, and in parole completion. It was rated average in property crime rate and violent crime rate

INFRASTUCTURE: North Carolina ranked 47th in the country. The only states ranked worse were Hawaii, Texas and Mississippi. North Carolina ranked above average in road quality. The state was average on commute time, public transit use, electricity price, and renewable energy use. The state was below average on bridge quality, power grid reliability, households with internet access and online download speed.

OPPORTUNITY: North Carolina is ranked 34th. Virginia is the only Southern state ranked higher. North Carolina ranks high on gender equality. It is average on disability employment rate, education equality by race, employment equality by race, racial gap income, cost of living (18th) and housing affordability(33rd). It is below average on the Gini Index (a measure of income distribution used to gauge inequality), household income (41st), food security and the poverty rate (39th.)

ECONOMY: North Carolina is ranked 17th. The state is fifth in the South behind Texas, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. North Carolina is above average in GDP growth, growth of young population, net migration, and job growth. It is average on labor force participation, unemployment rate, entrepreneurship, and patent creation.

GOVERNMENT: North Carolina is fourth in the country. In the South, only Virginia is ranked higher. The state has the best government credit rating in the country. It is among the top states in government budget balancing (eighth) pension fund liability (seventh) government digitalization (11th), budget transparency (19th) and state integrity (18th).

 

Rob Christensen has covered politics for The News & Observer of Raleigh for nearly four decades, and is also the author of The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics. Write to him at rchristensen@newsobserver.com.